How questioning Genesis 1 might save your faith (Genesis 1 of 2)
Why we hate questions.
There are few things more transformative and more threatening than asking questions. It’s much easier to quietly submit to the established system than to stir up conflict and confusion. Some questions make people feel mildly uncomfortable. Other questions result in revolution. Asking questions can be scary. It involves risk, fear, research, and honesty. It often exposes ugliness about us, our “tribe”, or the belief system we subscribe to. We may catch ourselves walking in denial or becoming offended about our findings as we discover we’ve been wrong all this time. And the things we learn might force us to change or ignore the truth.
But we must learn to embrace questions. There are Christians who are struggling to hold on to their faith because of unanswered questions. And there are non-Christians who refuse to even entertain the idea of Christianity because of unanswered questions. We have to love our brothers and sisters by seeking truth and striving to give them a better anchor for their faith than the words, “Just believe.”
So I want to discuss a question that many believers continually struggle with. That is, if Scripture teaches that the universe was created 6–10,000 years ago, but science says it was actually 13–18 billion years ago, who’s right? If science is right, then how can the Bible be the Word of God? Either God was wrong when He inspired Genesis (which means He isn’t all-knowing, and certainly isn’t sovereign), or God lied to us, or maybe God just isn’t really there. Everything is at stake here. We have to take this question seriously. And what I want to do is show you that you can trust your Bible and science. You don’t have to feel like you’re losing your mind or your faith.
3 views that drive a wedge between the Bible and science.
There are three primary ways most Christians read Genesis 1. The 6-day view, the Day-age view, and the allegorical view.
1. The 6-day view says that God created everything in the universe in just 6 days, about 6,000 years ago. We get 6,000 years because mankind was made on the sixth day, and Biblical genealogies from Adam to today record about 6,000 years of human history.
Problem: The difficulty with this view is that, while it reads Genesis literally, it is forced to reject much of modern science.
2. The Day-Age view sees each of the six days, not as literal days, but as six eras or eons of time. This is taken from 2 Peter 3:8 which says, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
3. The allegorical view says that Genesis 1 is an allegory or poem, and the point is not to tell us how or when the universe was made, but to give us a poetic way of remembering that everything ultimately comes from God.
Problem: The difficulty with either of these views is that they take science at face value, but seem to compromise the natural reading of the text of scripture instead of letting scripture speak for itself.
There’s another way.
But what if we’ve been reading Genesis wrong all this time? What if you could read Genesis 1 “literally” and still hold to the evidences of modern science? I want to share with you a perspective on Genesis that not only reconciles the Bible with science, but more importantly allows science to lead us into worship instead of confusion.
Genesis 1 is about the Promised Land.
Genesis is not a stand alone book. It is the first book in a five-part volume. The first five books in the Bible are together called the Pentateuch (from pente which means “five,” and teukhos which means “book”). These five books were written by Moses to the Israelites after they left Egypt and were on their way to the land God promised them — aptly named, “the Promised Land.” The Promised Land was their mission, their goal, their destiny. After 400 years of slavery, this entire nation, hundreds of thousands strong, had no land to call home. But the Promised Land was a land that God promised to give to their ancestor Abraham hundreds of years earlier, and now that promise was about to be fulfilled.
Genesis 1, the first chapter of the first book of the Penteteuch, opens by describing how God prepared and set apart the first Promised Land. Verse 1 teaches that God created the universe, but verse 2 through the end of the chapter is not about God’s 6-day creation of the world, but about His 6-day preparation of a special land for His covenant people, Adam and Eve, called “The Garden of Eden.” Israel’s mission was the Promised Land. What better opening scene to this five-book-series about God and His purpose for Israel than to tell them about the very first Promised Land?
I’m going to quickly walk you through this with six points. I’m trying to keep the nerdiness as brief as possible, so naturally there will be questions I don’t have space to answer here. That’s why at the end I share links for a sermon series, a much longer article, and a book, all teaching the same things in better detail than I can. Most of what I’m writing here came from those sources so I encourage you to choose at least one and get a fuller explanation.
Genesis 1:1–2 — “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void…”
1. “In the beginning God created…” (vs. 1a)
The word “beginning” is the Hebrew word “reshit.” It doesn’t simply mean the starting point, but rather an unspecified amount of time. It could have been 13 seconds or 13 billion years. In other words, you could replace the phrase “In the beginning” with the word “first.”
2. “…the heavens and the earth.” (vs. 1b)
The words “heavens” and “earth” are very ‘King James’. In our day they should really be translated as “sky” and “land.”
So a better translation of Genesis 1:1 for our modern language would be: “First, God created the sky and land.”
3. “Sky and land” vs. “sky” or “land.”
The words “sky and land” mean something different when they are together than when they are separate.
The two words together form a merism. “A merism combines two words to express a single idea. A merism expresses ‘totality’ by combing two contrasts or two extremes.” This is common in the Hebrew language. Another example is in Psalm 139:2, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up…” David doesn’t just mean that God knows when he sits or stands. He is using a merism to poetically say that God sees everything he does. Likewise, the merism “sky and land” refers to all of creation, whereas the words “sky” and “land” used individually refer to a specific region of the sky or a specific region of the land.
4. “And the earth was without form and void…” (vs. 2a)
Unlike the merism in verse 1, verse 2 just uses the word “earth,” or land. So the word “land” takes on a completely different meaning in verse 2 than it does in verse 1 since it isn’t a merism. The word “land” here refers to a small or specific section of land. That land is the Garden of Eden, which God begins preparing in verse 3.
5. “…without form and void…” (vs. 2b)
This doesn’t mean the land was empty, but that it was a barren desert. And God was about to spend six days bringing it to life, turning it into a garden.
6. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” (vs. 3)
For the rest of Genesis 1, with the exception of the creation of man in verse 27, God is no longer creating but is preparing a particular land for a particular purpose. God doesn’t create light here, (He did that in verse 1 when He created “the heavens and the earth”), but rather “God’s command on the first day, ‘let there be light,’ was the decree for the sun to rise. Sailhamer writes that, ‘The phrase “let there be light” doesn’t have to mean “let the light come into existence.” Elsewhere in the Bible, this same phrase [in Hebrew] is used to describe the sunrise (see Exodus 10:23; Nehemiah 8:3; Genesis 44:3)’” (from article at the bottom).
Genesis 1:1 teaches us that God created everything. It doesn’t say how, when or how long it took, but it does tell us Who did it. The rest of chapter 1 is about the Garden of Eden, (the first Promised Land), that God prepared for 6 days. The 6 days are literal days, but they aren’t describing creation, they’re describing God preparing a special land for His people.
This is great news. It means we can trust our Bibles and our very smart scientists, it means we can rest easy knowing that God is still on His throne, and it means that instead of being intimidated by modern science, we can allow it to inspire worship.
Why an old earth should inspire worship.
When science no longer intimidates us, it can cause us to worship like nothing else. We worship because God is far more magnificent than we could ever imagine. We worship because we are so small and minute, yet we are the crescendo of God’s creation. We worship because the smartest people in the world have racked their brains for hundreds of years to provide us with a glimmer of God’s infinite wisdom in creation. There are galaxies we’ve never heard of, planets in our own solar system we’ll never land on, and questions we’ll never answer. I’ll end with what scientists have discovered about the timeline of creation. This is mind blowing to me.
Neil Degrasse Tyson, in Episode 1 of his show, “Cosmos”, scales down our 13–18 billion-year-old universe into a single calendar year. The Big Bang explosion took place on January 1st, and as it cooled there was darkness for the next 200 million years. “The first stars burst into light on January 10th,” hundreds of millions of years later, and began to form galaxies on January 13th.” The Milky Way was born about 11 billion years ago, March 15th on the proverbial calendar. Our sun would not be born until August 31st, about 6 billion years later, and our earth began to form shortly thereafter. Life on our earth can be traced back to September 21st, 3.5 billion years ago. But “we still don’t know how life got started,” says Tyson (isn’t that amazing?).
But here’s where I begin to feel very small. If the multi-billion year old universe were scaled down to a single calendar year, then the first land animals appeared on December 17th. And in the last week of December is when we finally see “Forests, dinosaurs, birds, insects… The first flower bloomed on December 28th.” Dinosaurs went extinct at 6:24AM, December 30th on the cosmic calendar. Can you believe that? 65 million years ago, on a multi-billion-year timeline, scaled down to a single calendar year, was yesterday.
Humanity, God’s grand finale, appears, “On the last hour of the last day of the cosmic year… [At] 11:59PM and 46 seconds, all of recorded history occupies only the last 14 seconds. And every person you’ve ever heard of lives somewhere in there. All those kings and battles, migrations and inventions, wars and loves, everything in the history books happened here in the last seconds of the cosmic calendar.”
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33).
Study this subject:
- Book: Genesis Unbound by John Sailhamer
- 16k-word article: Science, the Bible, and the Promised Land